Minnesota could crack down on microbeads popping up in the Great Lakes

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Minnesota could be the next state to crack down on plastic microbeads washing ashore and polluting the Great Lakes.

The tiny beads are found in cosmetic products, including facial cleansers, shampoos and toothpaste. The beads are so small that they go down the drain, through water treatment facilities right into the lakes.

Bills before the Minnesota Legislature would ban microbeads in personal care products as of Dec. 31, 2017, and drug manufacturers would have two years to eliminate them. Several other states are also taking action.

In June Illinois became the first state to ban microbeads by the end of 2017. Wisconsin heard testimony this past week regarding the microbeads, and Indiana's House unanimously voted in favor of a bill banning them Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.

“This is one of those things where it’s so obvious. The beads aren’t needed. There are other options that don’t cause harm. And the potential for harm to the environment is so bad … I don’t think we’re going to have a problem getting this passed," Sen. John Marty of Roseville tells the Duluth News Tribune.

The Great Lakes Alliance states scientists believe fish and birds could see the plastic beads as food, which could contain toxins and be passed onto consumers.

Research from the University of Wisconsin-Superior brought this issue to light in 2013. Scientists found 1.7 million microbeads present in super-fine nets dragged across Lake Erie, according the the Duluth News Tribune. States are acting quickly since the research was found.

Minnesota lawmakers are expected to hear testimony Tuesday and have seen bipartisan support. Marty tells the Duluth News Tribune some industry officials want an exception for "biodegradeable" beads, but it's unclear if they exist.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports some manufacturers are trying to find organic abrasives such as ground shells or oatmeal to replace microbeads.

Regardless of the state action, some companies are already making modifications to remove the plastic beads.

Unilever announced it stopped using the beads in its products as of Jan. 1. Johnson & Johnson plans to stop using beads by 2017. Procter & Gamble's Crest toothpaste shouldn't have beads afters March 2016. L’Oréal will stop using microbeads in its scrubs by 2017.

For more information, check out the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's report.

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